OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Getting People to the Table

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One of the hardest parts of many mediation processes is just getting people to agree to participate. As is explained in more detail in the section on Limits to Agreement: Better Alternatives people are unlikely to be willing to negotiate if they think they can get a better outcome by using another source of power--usually some form of force. (Here force does not just mean violence, but any sort of process, such as the courts, which will force someone to do something they would not otherwise do.) If people (or a group of people, or national diplomats representing a government) think they can prevail completely without compromising, they are likely to refuse to negotiate, since negotiation usually involves the exchange of concessions or compromises.

The only way to overcome this problem is to demonstrate that negotiation is likely to yield a better outcome than the alternatives. This is easiest once the conflict has reached a point of stalemate--once both sides have won what they can, and the parties are at a standoff, neither able to win more, yet not willing to give up either. This is when a conflict is said to be "ripe" for resolution, and this is usually the best time to "get people to the table." (Other factors contribute to ripeness as well--see the essay on Identifying Ripe Times for Negotiation)

Another factor that is important in getting people to the table is convincing them that it is a "safe" place to be. Often lower power parties are afraid that they will be over-powered in any negotiation. For that reason, they tend to rely on covert forms of force such as nonviolent direct action or sporadic violence, rather than negotiations to try to get attention and be taken seriously. The mediator must assure all the parties that their interests and needs will be fairly considered in the negotiation process, and that they will not be co-opted or over-powered, due to their inferior status.


Links to more information about getting people to the table:

Jeffery Rubin -- The Timing of Ripeness and the Ripeness of Timing
This is an article on "ripeness," which is one of several key factors in getting people to the table.
William Zartman and Saadia Touval -- International Mediation in the Post- Cold War Era
This article also describes what factors encourage parties to enter into mediation.
Joseph Phelps -- When Dialogue is NOT our Hope
This article discusses when dialogue is not appropriate or likely to be beneficial. The same rules, by and large, pertain to mediation as well.
Susan Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy -- Constituencies and Public Information
The opposite side of getting parties to the table is allowing parties to come to the table. Excluding key parties, this article illustrates, is a recipe for failure.
Steven McIntosh -- Sanctions
This article examines the use and effectiveness of UN sanctions in five cases. One of the uses is to encourage parties to sit down at the negotiating table. The article illustrates that this worked in some case, but not in others, and draws conclusions about the differences.
Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D. Kennedy--Handling the Human Side of the Process
The authors discuss how to get over a variety of "people problems."
Roger Fischer, Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Schneider -- Consider the Other Side's Choice
  This strategy is one way to help get the other side to the negotiating table.
Clem McCarthy -- Conflict Resolution In Northern Ireland: Reconciling Form and Substance
Getting parties to the negotiating table has been one of the major problems in the Northern Ireland conflict.
John Paul Lederach -- Process: The Dynamics and Progression of Conflict
Parties are more likely to negotiate at some stages of a conflict than others.
Louis Kriesberg -- The Negotiation of Agreements
Getting parties to the table is the first step in the successful negotiation of agreements.
Harold Saunders -- We Need a Larger Theory Of Negotiation:  the Importance of Pre-Negotiation Phases
This article illustrates how pre-negotiation can help get parties to the table.


Links to related approaches:

Identifying Ripe Times for Negotiation

Utilize a Skilled, Credible Third Party

Action Forcing Mechanisms/Deadlines

Provide a Forum


Links to related problems:

Failing to Identify All of the Affected People or Groups

Excluded Parties

Refusal to Negotiate

Power Imbalances

Wrong (or Missing) Parties at the Table

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu